LACK of academic achievement and a sense of disengagement from mainstream education have proved no barrier to the achievements of Emma McDonald.
Last week, the 23-year-old Peebles mum was centre stage at an glittering ceremony in Glasgow’s Marriot Hotel – the 11th annual Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust (PSYBT) and Samsung Celebrate Success Awards.
Emma, who began her own florist company Stems less than three years ago, scooped the coveted RBS Enterprise Award which recognises “young people who have overcome serious difficulties to achieve success in creating a sustainable business”.
The accolade capped a memorable year for Emma, who was named 2014 Florist of the Year at the Scottish Wedding Awards in February.
In the past 12 months, demand for her wedding flowers have doubled and she is regularly asked to provide her trademark naturalistic creations for photoshoots.
Emma, who has also developed a comprehensive website, supplies bouquets, basket arrangements, sprays, corsages, posies, head dresses, wreaths and table centerpieces in the Borders and further afield.
The former Peebles High pupil admitted this week she did not find her métier until leaving school.
“I was one of those pupils who always struggled to fit in and left at 15 with no qualifications,” she told The Southern.
But her latent artistic talents – and her innate determination – found a vehicle for expression when she began working at a flower shop in Peebles.
She also benefited from the experience of having previously worked part-time at a top Edinburgh hairdressing salon.
“I knew I had skills and that I was really a people person but still had no real idea what I wanted to do,” she recalled.
The crunch came after Emma and her partner – now husband – Chris welcomed the birth of their daughter Shyla.
“We were living in a flat in Cardrona, depending on Chris’s income, when I realised I had to make something happen.”
Emma, just turned 21, resolved to exploit her floral flair and, with just £200 in savings, she used social media to build up a small customer base, principally for weddings.
“I was storing the flowers in our bathroom and working at home when a friend suggested I contacted the PSYBT which helps entrepreneurs aged 18-25,” explained Emma.
The PSYBT’s Selkirk-based adviser – now Borders regional manager – Tara Bolland proved a great source of inspiration and support to Emma, who benefited initially from a £250 “market test” grant. Further grants from the charity have allowed her to further promote her business and, more recently, after the family moved to Peebles, to install a workshop in the garden of her home.
Emma said: “The Prince’s Trust really helped me harness my passion and I have a lot to thank them for.
“I hope next year to employ a young person who, like me, doesn’t fit into the education system, but has a creative side. I feel I’ve been given a chance to give that same opportunity to someone else.”